Friday, March 2, 2012

Bits and Bobs Part 2 - What the play testing revealed

On the whole, I am really happy with how Hearts of Tin is now. The play testing did show 3 minor issues, none of which cropped up in my ACW games. One involves cavalry vs squares, another is the lack of differentiation between fortified  positions and improvised cover, the last one is a Gotcha! aspect to the reaction rules.    

Squares. Squares were on occasion broken so I like to include that possibility and tempt people into trying now and then but it shouldn't be the usual outcome. In each of the first 2 games in the mini-campaign, Red cavalry caught Blue infantry forming a  hasty square and broke it.  On the first occasion the cavalry was pursuing another unit which they had broken and were coming from the flank. It was a situation where one might have expected the infantry to break. On the 2nd occasion the infantry were advancing towards the cavalry and were charged from a fairly close distance.  It is quite possible that the cavalry had in fact caught the infantry before the square was formed. In both cases the infantry were some what penalized (-1 for maneuvering, no defensive fire) and this might have made the difference if the dice had come up something else but in both cases, the same die rolls with cavalry charging a steady square would have had the same result unless the infantry's fire was effective. THAT is a problem.

Why was this suddenly happening? It was a simple, careless thing. The rule that has been in use for some time was that infantry in square defeated by cavalry will stand instead of retreating. The idea being that the cavalry had to win enough rounds to eventually destroy the infantry unit. However when that was introduced, there were no multi-turn melees, instead, the 2 sides just kept fighting till 1 side was defeated. When I re-introduced drawn melees that would persist into the next turn, suddenly the square rule didn't make sense. If cavalry did break into a square, it should be liable to collapse or else the cavalry should be evicted, there should not be a prolonged melee with a broken square. So I ruled that if the infantry lost the 2nd round as well, it would do just that. I failed to actually work out the odds of them doing that which essentially requires the infantry to make a bunch of bad rolls while the cavalry makes a bunch  of good ones.  I haven't worked out the exact odds  but they are too good. The solution is simple, cavalry vs square melees where the cavalry win will result in another round, immediately. This will keep going until the cavalry is defeated, a round is drawn or the infantry are destroyed. Since there is not a constant time factor involved in melee rounds, it is assumed to happen quickly regardless of how many round it stakes. In effect, the drama of the moment gives the participants the feeling that a lot is happening even though little time passes.  So, there might still be a dramatic collapse or the cavalry might be evicted like the Black Watch at Quatre Bras who hastily formed square as the French cavalry rode into it but calmly shot them down.

Fortified Positions. If rolling dice for hits, then whatever modifiers are applied, either there is no chance of scoring a hit or there is a chance that every die will hit. There are of course other ways to handle things, but I want to be simple and consistent. There are several instances in history of fairly small bodies of men holding out under good cover for a prolonged period of time. The question is, should skirmishers hiding behind clumps of bushes or lying down in the open, and troops defending an ordinary village have the same protection as someone in a loop holed fortress, rifle it with over head cover or defending  Hugomont?

 I used to have a -2 for fortified targets with only a -1 for partial cover.   I'm planning on bringing it back. It will still possible to hit troops in fortified positions but most troops will need to be at close range but even superior artillery, point blank grape and sharpshooters will lose the possibility of a double hit.  To be honest having taken away the -1 for deployed artillery, I also found it a bit vulnerable but entrenched guns should be harder to hit. This would resolve that as well. I need to adjust the shooting and melee charts but need to be careful not to confuse things or double dip.

Reactions and Gotchas! Gotchas are those seemingly minor technical bits in a set of rule that can trip up a person not totally immersed in the rules and expose them to a harsh penalty for something silly. I hate them in both theory and practice and I found a couple buried in the reaction rules. For example, if skirmishers fire at the enemy and these do not react but instead the enemy on their own turn charges the skirmishers, they are now locked in as written, don't get defensive fire and can't evade. I found a bunch of similar sitiuations which I hadn't intended. Over all I like the reaction idea but it needs some fine tuning.

A bit of history; Morschauser's original rules only had 1 range for shooting but if a unit moved to within 3" of an enemy unit, it had to stop and resolve melee. Once melee began, there was no escape, one unit or both had to be destroyed. In essence there was a divide between relatively safe but indecisive  long range fire (indecisive if you were using rosters) and decisive but risky melee. I initially kept that  divide though adding a forced back result to the melees. Were units exchanging point blank volleys or charging with the bayonet? Did cavalry counter charge? Who knows. who cares? Its all built in, no need for a reaction system, if engaged with long range fire, you ignored it until it was your turn, if charged or if the enemy wandered too close, you fought regardless of what you had been doing.

I did add in some tweaks to allow for a difference between infantry engaging in a fire fight or charging and was quite happy with how it worked. The issues came from the 3" rule and the fact that my units were of various sizes and shapes and varying numbers of stands  whereas for Morschauser, each base was a unit and 1 base would fight 1 base.  In practice it was easy to accidentally engage a 3rd or 4th unit in the melee. Worse it was easy to not notice that until after the fight was resolved. The system also meant that much of the narrative had to be invented whole cloth.

My solution was to bring in long and close range fire and limit melee to contact. In order to keep the sense of things, this required the introduction of a reaction system.  Or rather, the expansion of the charge reaction system. And now thanks to the sorts of things that come up when playing a game rather than testing specific parts of a set of rules, I have a crop of Gothcha's to deal with.

I think the answer is to break down reactions, limit some, lift restrictions on others and take advantage of the Maneuver penalty instead of prohibitions. There are 2 main types of reaction: defensive (returning fire, defensive fire, counter charge, evade) and offensive (opportunity fire or charge). By separating them into 2 categories I think I can restrict the offensive ones without robbing units of the chance to defend themselves in a crisis. By applying penalties rather than limiting actions I can still penalize those units caught off guard.
For example, allowing units that have been charged to fire regardless but possibly with a penalty but not allowing units to engage opportunity shooting if they have already done so.

Small changes but important.  It'll probably be Saturday night or Sunday before I get them done and posted.


  1. Ross, I think that I often find your comments and thoughts more interesting than the battle accounts (which I also enjoy).

    I will look forward to the changes in HoT when you post them.

    -- Jeff

    PS, I have some heavy news on my Saxe-Bearstein blog.

    1. Jeff, heavy news indeed. My thoughts and wishes are with you. You just keep those comments coming You hear?

  2. Ross,

    Regarding reactions of units to enemy actions, may I suggest you go to the "Honour" and purchase a copy of "LaSalle." The PDF costs $16.00 USD. It has a very interesting way of dealing with reacting to enemy actions. Reactions to your actions are the first thing in my turn. I was skeptical at first, but after playing a while I find it works quite well.

    For example, it is your turn and my infantry haven't formed square even though your cavalry is close by. Your cavalry charges my unit of infantry in line and makes contact. That's part of your movement, basically the last step of your turn, other than an administrative step. It is now my turn. The first thing I do is the reaction step. I try to change formation to form a square. It either works or not. If it works the square is very likely to see off the cavalry. If it does not work, the cavalry is likely to ride down the infantry, but the infantry has a fair chance to hold. Its all in the dice.

    Think of formation changes in the reaction step as hasty formation changes. You can always change formation in you movement step before moving.

    Reactions include about face, change of formation, countercharge by cavalry, fall back, and firing. This is the only part of the whole turn when firing happens, muskets and artillery. Everything except firing requires you to pass a discipline test based on the unit's discipline rating.

    I am sure the LaSalle rules will give you some ideas. Just what you need, right?

    Just a thought,


  3. Hi Jim, Sam has a fine reputation for crafting rules. Oddly, while I don\t mind drawing some vague inspiration from pioneers in the hobby, I draw a no doubt artificial line at setting out to steal concepts from current work, even after paying the cost. Not to mention that it does away with the most fun part of the process: the search!

    Apart from that, I have used delayed interactions in the past but they aren't to my taste. I find they may work but for me they tend to interfere with the story line. That's why I long ago started dropping separate phases for shooting, melee, morale etc. in favour of these happening throughout the turn, Its more awkward but I like the feel.

    I do appreciate your suggestions though.

  4. Ross,

    Okey-dokey on gathering inspiration from LaSalle. Sorry, I did not mean to imply "stealing" Sam's idea. I was thinking you might look at them to see if they gave you an AHA! moment. Nevermind. :-)

    I agree with the story line approach. I personally like not having phases at all, just allowing units to do one or two actions from a list. And allow a unit to fully complete its actions and all resulting reactions before moving on to the next unit. Much better.

    One lingering error in Hearts of Tin. In the Eligibility to Shoot paragraph, the second to last sentence should be removed. Right?

    Looking forward to the next draft.


    1. No problem, to be honest, I'm quite happy with the current state of HofT and for once, don't really want any fresh inspiration to muck it up! Just a tweak to eliminate a very minor side effect.

      Thanks for the edit catch. Offending line has been ferreted out and removed.